Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
The Bay Ridge Center will once again dole out free brown-bag lunches to seniors every weekday — after budget cuts chopped the program down to two days a week earlier this year. Seniors can pick up a cold-cut sandwich, a carton of milk and juice, and a piece of fruit every weekday from noon to 2 pm starting on Dec. 5. The little brown bags make a big difference for seniors living on a fixed income, and those living out their golden years are thrilled that the meals are back, said one senior.
“Everybody clapped, and I was jumping for joy, when they told us,” said 68-yea-old Bay Ridgite Joseph Lupio, who has visited the center almost every day for the last 10 years. “I use the program frequently, and I had to go somewhere else to get food, because I live off of social security and it’s hard to make ends meet when you live off of food stamps.”
The Bay Ridge Center fed up to 750 oldsters a week until July, when it had to roll the program back amid budget slashing. But the cut provoked ire from Bay Ridgites who pressed pols for funding to fully restore the program.
“A lot of seniors depend on this, and they have enough on their plate without having an empty plate,” said life-long Bay Ridgite Debbie Stevens, whose family member frequents the center for sandwiches. “And myself and others felt it was important that they get their sandwiches, because they’re on a very fixed income, and a sandwich could make or break a senior that is hungry.”
But Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) brought home the bacon — the pol sent the center a $40,000 Council grant to bring back the lunches in August, and the Department for the Aging finally approved the move after a three-month review process.
The victory will help ease seniors’ stress about where they’ll get their next meal, the lawmaker said.
“It is extremely important to me to consistently pay it forward to those who have worked hard all of their lives so that they can enjoy their golden years healthily and comfortably,” said Gentile.
The program also offers lunches to homeless and needy families, but the center is still only handing out those meals on Mondays and Wednesdays, because the $40,000 Council grant may only be used for senior services.
Meantime, staff and seniors hope to secure funding to restore five-day free lunches for non-seniors, because it is a shame to turn away hungry people, one senior said.
“It’s a blessing these sandwiches are back five days a week but I’d like for them to be available for everyone,” said 69-year-old Ida Singer, who lives in Bay Ridge and began coming to the center for the lunches. “The center and the city did a wonderful job helping us but I think we need to keep going. Everyone deserves a sandwich if they want one.”
Bay Ridge Center [6935 Fourth Ave. between Bay Ridge and Ovington avenues, (718) 748–0650]. Brown-bag lunches Mon–Fri, noon–2 pm.